Scientists Under Scrutiny in Newly Revealed Interior Department Emails
That evening, The Washington Post reported on an Interior Department email thread released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the administration's aversion to accurate climate science.
In the emails, published by The Post, Douglas Domenech, the Department of the Interior's assistant secretary for insular areas and one of the appointees featured in the POLITICO report, complained about the language in a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) press release about shrinking glaciers in Montana.
The release, summarizing research the USGS had conducted with Portland State University, began with the sentence,"The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent."
"This is a perfect example of them going outside their wheelhouse," Domenech complained in an email to three colleagues dated May 10, 2017.
"They probably are relying on the percentages but the most basic point is we need to watch for inflammatory adverbs and adjectives in their press releases," replied current Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Cameron, who was then in charge of reviewing USGS releases.
The exchange reveals an intense level of scrutiny directed at the language scientists use to report their findings coming from people with a minimal understanding of the purpose of scientific research.
Portland State University geology professor and study co-author Andrew Fountain responded to Domenech's complaints. "This is what we do. It's not just that we look at glaciers, see they're retreating and shrug our shoulders," he told The Post. "We try to figure out what's going on."
While Trump's Department of Interior does require all press releases to pass a "policy review" before publication, this particular email exchange did not stop the USGS from posting the objectionable language on their website less than an hour later, where you can still read it.
But the reason the emails were obtained in the first place suggests that attitudes like Domenech's are having a stifling impact on scientific research at the Interior Department.
Joel Clement, a former Interior Department scientist who studied the impact of climate change on Alaskan Native communities before being suspiciously reassigned to accounting and later resigning, filed the FOIA request with Bureau of Land Management official Matthew Allen. The pair seek to determine if their involuntary reassignments were related to their climate work.
According to the Post, Interior Department officials did remove a line about climate change from a press release about a USGS study published in Scientific Reports. They also ordered National Park Service employees not to post on social media about a visit Mark Zuckerberg made to Glacier National Park after reading about its disappearing glaciers in the USGS study.
The Interior Department isn't the only department full of Trump appointees hostile to climate science. The administration set the tone minutes after Trump's inauguration by removing references to climate change from the White House website, among other alterations. And in January, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative published a report detailing how the Trump administration has censored climate change information on government websites. "Language about climate change has been systematically changed across multiple agencies and program websites," the report found.
From National Parks to the EPA, Trump Administration Stiff-Arms Science Advisers https://t.co/C7P6eB9Tmh @greenpeaceusa @foe_us @EnvAm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516407308.0
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.